Events in Libya continue to move at a rapid pace. On Thursday evening, the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of force against Libya, approved a no fly zone over the country, and encouraged “all necessary measures” be taken to prevent the regime from slaughtering its citizens. Within hours, Libya announced a cease-fire and claimed it had halted all military operations. Both the media and American intelligence contradict this claim. The Washington Post has learned that satellite images and sources within the country show that pro-Qaddafi forces continue their assault on rebel forces.
President Obama addressed this fluid situation Friday afternoon. He laid out a series of non-negotiable conditions to the Libyan dictator. These included: 1) halt his advance toward the Rebel capitol, Benghazi, pull back from the occupied towns of Ajdabiya and Misrata in Eastern Libya, as well as Zawiya, the neighboring city of Tripoli, 2) allow humanitarian assistance to reach the people, and 3) turn back on water, electricity, and gas supplies throughout the country.
The president declared this international coalition was built to prevent Libyan civilians, announced that no U.S. ground troops would be deployed, and promised America would provide humanitarian and economic assistance to the people.
The international community has acted to prevent the loss of innocent life and moved quickly this week because of Qaddafi’s rhetoric. The Libyan dictator announced his plans to “cleanse” the rebels during his assault on Benghazi. But how will the international community ensure the safety of rebels if they don’t put boots on the ground? Neither a no-fly zone nor air-strikes will likely depose Qaddafi. Does the U.S. want to enforce a permanent no-fly zone in Libya like the one the Clinton administration did to protect the Kurds in Saddam’s Iraq?
These questions remain unanswered.
Most Americans oppose intervention in Libya and are wary of our military presence in a third Muslim country. Fox News poll reports 65% of Americans oppose intervention; Pew Research found 63% of Americans did not want America involved.
Prominent pundits have also expressed reservations. Peggy Noonan devoted her Wall Street Journal column to the difficulty of these open-ended conflicts. She noted that it’s much easier to start a war than to finish one. While the focus of a Libyan operation is both clear and noble, it’s uncertain how we can extricate American troops from this operation.
We experienced this is Afghanistan. President Bush sent troops there in October 2001 to capture and kill Osama bin Laden and to destroy Al-Qaeda. The U.S. moved swiftly throughout the country, quickly conquered the capital of Kabul, removed the Taliban from power, and had bin Laden cornered in the mountains near Tora Bora. Then they let him get away. Ever since, the mission in Afghanistan has become dubious. We have spent the last several years propping up the corrupt Karzai government and fighting a clandestine war in Pakistan, where the al-Qaeda operatives are and where intelligence believes bin Laden to be.
Noonan concluded by mentioning a Pashtun taunt to American soldiers: “you have the clocks, but we have the time.” How appropriate. The open-ended war in Afghanistan is nearing its tenth year. We have stayed longer there than the Soviets did in the 1980s. We are coming up on our eighth year in Iraq.
Americans are war weary. The Washington Post reported that 2/3 no longer believe the Afghan war is worth fighting. Many question the wisdom of spending $100 billion annually in this quixotic struggle.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich demanded the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Even Republicans (in addition to Ron Paul!!!) have questioned the wisdom of this operation. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (a member of the Reagan and both Bush administrations) told military cadets at West Point that any future SecDef who proposed starting a land-war in the Mid East better have his head examined. Mississippi governor (and presumptive presidential candidate) Haley Barbour told an Iowa audience that the U.S. should slash its defense budget and reduce our role in Afghanistan.
This thinking is in line with the American people. We know why we went into Afghanistan but no longer know why we’re there. Last year, CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC News that only 50-100 Al-Qaeda members were in the country. That only reinforced American discontent. Poll after poll reflects our disenchantment with this operation.
Yet the Obama administration wants the U.S. to get entangled in another Middle East operation. Americans have soured on overseas adventurism and look skeptically on getting involved in others’ messes. Yes we respect human rights and wish everyone lived in a liberal democracy. But it’s not America’s responsibility to make it so.